Posted on 10th December, by Kevin Hanrahan in Dog Advocate.
With heavy eyes Sergeant John Nolan shuffled through the Norfolk Airport. A faded green, tan and brown camouflage pack weighed heavily on his sagging shoulders. His right hand tightly grasped a black leash.
John smiled when he saw us waiting for him.
The sergeant had just endured a journey half way around the world from war torn Afghanistan to the quiet and deserted Norfolk, Virginia airport this past Saturday evening.
On the end of the leash strolled a squarely build yellow Labrador Retriever. The Labrador had a black harness around his torso and the letters MWD emblazed on the side. It was Sergeant John Nolan’s partner, Specialized Search Dog Honza- aka Honza Bear.
Honza Bear pulled at the leash seemingly guiding the exhausted sergeant through the airport.
Their final patrol.
This was one last patrol for the pair on their yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. But this round would lead Sergeant John Nolan to his wife Cara, and their little girl Riley who was born while John served in Afghanistan.
On Saturday, December 9, 2012 Honza Bear guided Sergeant John Nolan home safely.
Excited to see his friends, Honza Bear pulled at the leash to greet the seven or so K9 handlers from the Fort Eustis Military Working Dog kennel who had come to welcome them home.
The fellow handlers hugged their brother in arms Sergeant Nolan while Honza Bear took the opportunity to leap up on each person and give them a special Honza Bear greeting.
Then it was my turn. John’s eye lids were heavy. His movement was slow.
I gave John a “man hug” and said, “Welcome home brother,” as I felt Honza Bear’s powerful front legs on my torso. I rubbed Honza’s head briefly as he sniffed my hand.
I wanted to give Honza a big hug and thank him for taking care of John and the members of the Green Beret team they worked with while in Afghanistan. But I didn’t want to delay John any longer from getting to his family back at Fort Eustis. Besides, now that John and Honza Bear are back at Fort Eustis I can see them anytime.
So I ended our exchange with, “Good work John. Congratulations on your promotion. It is well deserved.”
“Thanks Sir,” he replied.
What I neglected to tell you all is that John was given a battlefield promotion to sergeant last month. This is a huge accomplishment and a well-deserved promotion for John.
Honza also got promoted from Sergeant to Staff Sergeant. That is one rank higher than John. Honza’s rank isn’t official but is tradition amongst K9 handlers….the dog always outranks the handler.
As the group of nine soldiers walked to the baggage claim to secure John’s gear I saw a boy of maybe ten staring at Honza.
“Look mom, look, it is an actual military working dog,” said the boy.
I smiled and said, “That isn’t just any military working dog. That is Honza Bear,” as one of the other K9 handlers was led away by Honza Bear to the waiting van.
Honza Bear had his head down, tail wagging and I have no doubt he was sniffing for explosives!
Welcome Home Sergeant John Nolan and Specialized Search Dog Honza!
This week on this site will be dedicated to John and Honza Bear. Stay tuned for their next chapter in their story from Afghanistan on Thursday!